Full STEAM Ahead at Palm Beach State College

| Entrepreneurship

I spoke a couple of weeks ago to 250 students, aspiring entrepreneurs, and other members of the community at Palm Beach State College, which has launched an initiative to prepare young people for the millions of technology-related jobs we are going to need in the next decade.

It was great fun to “demystify entrepreneurism” – my topic – by sharing my experience investing in and mentoring disruptively innovative high-tech companies that are changing the world. As I told my audience at the beginning, I’m an idea person, and what excites me is working for the last 20 years on the outer edge of entrepreneurism – more time than I ever spent as CEO at Pepsi and Apple.

PBSC’s STEAM initiative is based on STEM, a national movement in education to put Americans back on top of the heap when it comes to filling 21st century jobs. The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but Palm Beach State has added an “A” for the arts. I couldn’t resist saying that Steve Jobs would have supported this addition, given his obsession with graphics and design. (As the story goes, Bill Gates chided Jobs, “You can’t write code!” To which Jobs replied, “And you don’t have any taste!”)

Here are just some of the points I made in my speech and the Q&A following:

  • Disruptive innovation doesn’t happen in a democratic, consensus-building culture. Neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) or Larry Page (Google) are democratic leaders.
  • What makes the US different from any other country is that we give people permission to fail. Nowhere else in the world do they think of failure as part of the learning experience. In other countries, people are not allowed to venture out onto that farthest edge, and it’s not okay to make a mistake.
  • The elements that make the difference between success and failure are a noble cause, a big idea, perfect timing, a talented team, and a lot of luck. We are in an era of rapid innovation right now – it’s the perfect time to strive for an extraordinarily ambitious goal.
  • Just being smart doesn’t get you very far – there are a lot of smart people in the world. What counts is the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. As computing pioneer Alan Kay says, point of view is worth 80 IQ points.

Of course, I spent some time talking about the seismic shifts that technology is making in how we deliver healthcare in the US and how we pay for it – I have written about this in several previous blogs. Some of the companies that are driving this change are the college’s neighbors in South Florida:

  • MDLive, a telehealth company in Sunrise headed by my friend Randy Parker;
  • Modernizing Medicine in Boca Raton, in which I am a small investor; and
  • SLEEPMED in West Palm Beach, formerly Watermark Medical, which was founded by my buddy Sean Heyniger and has revolutionized sleep apnea diagnostics.

Other Palm Beach County high-tech companies that have sprouted from the genius of my friends and colleagues include nextSource, a temporary staffing company in Delray Beach headed by CEO Joe Musaccio; OpenPeak in Boca Raton, the brainchild of Dan Gittleman; and John Duffy’s 3Cinteractive, also in Boca Raton, named “America’s Most Promising Company” by Forbes. (I always point out that I only work with people I like, so all of these partners and colleagues are my good friends too!)

One of the best things about this stage of my life is my interaction with bright, eager young people who are ambitious and optimistic about our future. In other words, young Americans who are determined to go full STEAM ahead, like those at Palm Beach State College. I came away excited and energized, and I hope they did too.

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